Robot’s terrible jokes are a new test of machine intelligence

An AI trained to improvise jokes around topics suggested by an audience is testing the ways we perceive and interact with intelligent machines


Pretend for a minute you’re the captain of a ship that’s being attacked by enemy cannons. Your crew is panicking. Now – say something funny.

Making up jokes on the spot is a real test of wits. Yet two comedians have developed an improv show in which many of the ad-libbed gags are delivered by a toy robot. In the last couple of years this unlikely comedy trio – known as HumanMachine – has performed 30 times to nearly 3000 people at comedy festivals in the UK and Canada.

It’s not all played for laughs, however. Kory Mathewson at the University of Alberta in Canada and Piotr Mirowski – both artificial intelligence researchers in their day jobs – also wanted to explore how audiences would respond to a robot that was trying to be funny.

It typically happens when the perceptions and intuitions of the performer and